The United Kingdom government is set to add folic acid to flour to help prevent spinal birth defects in babies, according to BBC.
Doctors often advise women to take vitamin B9 vitamin (folic acid) that can protect unborn babies from spina bifida before and during pregnancy, but most women fail to take it.
Therefore, it is believed that adding this B vitamin to flour could prevent up to 200 birth defects a year.
The government will apply this rule only to non-wholemeal wheat flour, with gluten-free foods and wholemeal flour exempt.
In the UK, neural tube defects, including spina bifida and anencephaly, which affect the brain, are seen in about 1,000 pregnancies per year.
Babies diagnosed with spina bifida survive into adulthood, but they have to live with it for life, affecting their quality of life.
Doctors advise women to take 400 micrograms of folic acid a day for at least a month before conception and up to the 12th week of pregnancy, per BBC. However, around 50% of pregnancies are unplanned and most women are not always aware they should take the vitamin.
Meanwhile, folic acid is added to flour in more than 80 nations. This move has already helped Australia as its government started adding folic acid to bread, and eventually, the rate of neural tube defects fell by 14%.
It is clear that getting enough folic acid during conception and pregnancy is important for reducing the risk of women having babies with neural tube defects. However, most people already get their required amount of the vitamin from a normal diet.
The UK government’s independent advisory body has looked at all the evidence. The body is satisfied that fortification is the right thing to do for society as a whole.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said folic acid-fortified flour would be “a quick, simple win” to enhance a baby’s development, as well as helping to boost the health of adults, according to BBC.
Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said, “Preventing life-threatening health problems like spina bifida would mean fewer people needing hospital treatment.”
CEO of Chine Charity, Kate Steele, said she was “delighted” by the decision.
Shine Charity provides specialist support for people affected by spina bifida and hydrocephalus.
“In its simplest terms, the step will reduce the numbers of families who face the devastating news that their baby has anencephaly and will not survive,” Steele said, “It will also prevent some babies being affected by spina bifida, which can result in complex physical impairments and poor health. This is truly a momentous day.”